Well, tomorrow is the last day of my year of No New Nothing. With less than a week left, I jumped the gun this past weekend by buying a hat and pair of gloves. I had been trying to make it through this winter without hat or gloves, since I had lost the pair of gloves I bought last year and couldn’t find my only hat (a bright red Arsenal football cap I bought on a trip to London when I was about 16). Then on Saturday, my visiting parents and I went out to Kent to see Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s country home, and I was frankly freezing. I saw a cute pair of Fair Isle wool gloves with matching cap in the National Trust gift shop at Chartwell and went for them. At least, they weren’t more than £20 and the money supports the National Trust, a charity close to my own heart because it is dedicated to environmental and heritage conservation. They also have a bit of blue in them that matches my light blue winter coat.
When you don’t buy yourself many things, you get weirdly excited about stuff like a pretty cheap new hat and gloves. I’ve been so thrilled about them all week — wearing them every day, even when it hasn’t been that cold that I really needed them, and showing them off to everyone. I can’t imagine having been so delighted by them a year ago — they would have been just more things, bought without thinking about them much, just more stuff added to my pile of stuff. It’s amazing how much more you appreciate stuff, how much more joy you get out of each individual thing, when you’re more mindful about your interaction with the things you buy and limit yourself to the things you really want or need. Appreciation — I guess that’s one of the things I’ve learned to be better about this year.
Buying a winter hat — and seeing the joy that such a small, cheap thing gave me — brought me back to thinking about one of the events that set off my decision to do No New Nothing for a year: when our neighbor freaked out because Hettie (my dog), who was then a puppy, stealing her expensive designer ear muffs she had left lying on a bench in the garden and demanded I pay for new ones. It’s so easy to get caught up in the newness or expensiveness or status-symbolism of the things we buy that we lose sight of whether and how they serve us; it’s much easier to be thankful for the simple things that serve us when we aren’t drowning in stuff. I’m not sure how well the ear muffs were serving that women since they seemed to be an effort to feed her status-conscious ego more than anything else — she wasn’t even wearing them because it wasn’t very cold, and clearly they weren’t bringing her joy because she had a sour disposition even before Hettie stole them. They were just one more among the many designer things she was carrying around with her in the garden — things that she seemed to be emptily piling on without thought. The pure joy Hettie got from running around the garden with the little pink balls of fluff probably made the ear muffs worth more than any enjoyment that woman got out of them. We pay so much for stuff that brings us nothing, and yet for much less we can find wonderful joy in simpler things. Running around this week in my hat and gloves, I’ve felt a little bit like Hettie, and I think the only ‘things’ I need in my life are things that I can appreciate in that way.